The Nature of Art

Watershed Sculpture on the Truckee and Carson Rivers

See for yourself how we're using art to restore Eastern Sierra rivers:

You've heard about The Nature Conservancy's restoration projects on the Truckee and Carson rivers: reshaping riverbeds, removing invasive weeds, planting native trees, building sculptures ... Wait. What? Building sculptures?!

That's right. While people in Nevada have created art for centuries that reflects nature—think of ancient petroglyphs and Black Rock City—we're using art to restore nature.

The Conservancy, with support from the J. Robert Anderson Memorial Fund, is teaming up with the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for Art + Environment and environmental artists Daniel McCormick and Mary O’Brien on an innovative way to restore the Eastern Sierra's rivers for the animals and people that need them.

The project, called The Nature of Art, is part of our ongoing conservation efforts at River Fork Ranch Preserve outside of Carson City and McCarran Ranch Preserve near Reno.


It all started in spring 2014 at the River Fork Ranch Preserve, where the artists worked with Conservancy scientists to create large, living sculptures from native willows harvested on the preserve. Hundreds of community and corporate volunteers gathered and bundled willow cuttings, then planted them near the river's edge.

The resulting sculptures—up to 350 feet long—are designed to sprout and grow, creating important habitat for willow flycatchers, monarch butterflies and other wildlife. They also improve water quality by reducing erosion and filtering pollutants. 

Benefitting nature is a characteristic that's built into this art from the outset. Artist Daniel McCormick describes the project, saying, "The science grounds us as we plan our art. We do an incredible amount of research about the ecosystem and the historical influences of the area. People often ask, 'How much is art and how much is science?' But really, the two are so interwoven. We don’t separate the conservation and the art."

Plan Your Visit to See the Sculptures at River Fork Ranch or McCarran Ranch >>

The installation continued in the fall at the McCarran Ranch Preserve on the Truckee River east of Reno. Sculptures created here will slow down damaging floodwaters while others enhance habitat areas.


People like you are key to The Nature of Art. Volunteers build the sculptures with their own hands—and outreach is far from over.

The Nature of Art provides community to individuals, partners and corporations through signature volunteer events and educational talks. To date, volunteers from Starbucks Roasting Plant, Harrah’s Caesars Entertainment, General Electric, local schools and other community groups have pitched in to build the sculptures. Thank you!

If you'd like to get involved, please contact us at


A four-month art exhibition about the project was featured at the Nevada Museum of Art's Center for Art + Environment in Reno. The exhibition explored the ongoing aspects of these projects that allow the artists to inquire into present day relationships between community, land and water, and to investigate ways in which they influence each other. The museum has also archived the project.


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